|Have you ever experienced aching or numbness in your hands or wrists; stiffness in your back or shoulders or aching in your knees? The environment that you are working in could be part of the cause and, if ignored, might even be putting you at risk of further discomfort in the future.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as nerve damage from incorrect posture when typing and injuries caused by lifting heavy or awkwardly shaped items incorrectly, are the most common occupational illness in Great Britain1 according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). According to the results of a self-reported work-related illness survey carried out in conjunction with the Labour Force Survey, 11.6 million working days were lost through MSDs during 2004/05 with each person on average taking 20.5 days off work in that 12 month period.
More and more doctors, specialists and scientists are recommending that these injuries be prevented by employers paying particular attention to the ergonomics in their workplace.
Ergonomics is the scientific study of the way humans work. In ergonomics, a worker’s capabilities are taken into account in direct relation to the tasks required of him or her. Overall, ergonomics adapts the work to fit the worker, instead of forcing the worker to adapt to the work. Doing so ensures that tasks, equipment, information and the working environment maximise productivity whilst minimising work-related musculoskeletal disorders and injury.
By following these simple steps you can make your office’s workstations more ergonomic, perhaps even alleviating that numbness, stiffness or aching which may in turn reduce workers’ compensation claims and sick days. Your business should educate employees on the following points, perhaps you could even give out promotional items printed with recommended posture or lifting diagrams or details about how to organise a workstation that reinforce the messages.
- Watch out for repetitive motions like computer mouse use and scrolling, stapling and typing. It these actions repeated over and over again that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis – two of the most painful work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Ensure that employees take frequent breaks when they can move away from the repetitive task and encourage different muscle use such as, for example by providing staff with a stress ball.
- As a rule of thumb, desks – or at least the keyboard – should sit somewhere between the operator’s stomach and the bottom of their rib cage and should be at least long enough to allow 60 to 70cm of workable space. Urge employees to keep their computer mouse in this space with a Wireless Mouse.
- Let employees know that when seated at a desk, they should keep their head level with work directly in front of the body. Be sure that they are also sitting with their shoulders relaxed – not elevated, hunched or rotated – and that they are keeping their elbows close to their sides and bent at about a 90 degree angle.
- Staff should keep items that are frequently used while at their desk – like pens, memo block and the telephone – within a 40 to 45cm reach area that allows them to grab items without stretching or straining. Provide Desk Tidy to help keep things handy.
- Offer chairs with lumbar support that decrease the weight placed on a person’s back when seated for long periods of time. Many adjustable task chairs have this feature built in and can usually be adjusted to suit the worker. For standard chairs, lumbar cushions can be purchased from most office supply stores for around £15-25 per cushion.
- Tell employees to try not to sit for long periods of time; they should get up and stretch their legs and back frequently. Hand out back massage tools to help them stay loose and refreshed throughout the day.
- Employees should sit with their knees at the same level or slightly below the level of their hips. There should be no pressure points along the backs of the thighs or knees. Many adjustable task chairs also feature seats with a sloped edge or the ability to adjust the seat angle to help prevent pressure points. Keep footstools on hand to assist shorter staff members in this posture.
- Pay attention to the light in your workspace. Ideal light levels for computer use are actually lower than the light required for reading. Grab a desk lamp if needed, like this efficient USB Hub and Lamp, to improve existing lighting levels.
- Consider keeping a space heater and a small fan on hand to adjust individual workspace temperature as needed for maximum comfort and efficiency.
- Ensure that all staff members, who may be required to lift heavy or awkwardly shaped objects, have received adequate training and instructions on the best posture to avoid injury or know who to ask for help.
- And finally, encourage all staff members to speak up if they are experiencing aches and pains at work rather than suffering in silence. By treating symptoms in their early stages staff are far less likely to develop acute problems that require more prolonged treatment.